Isobelle Hardy

Isobelle Hardy

Isobelle discovered horse riding just at the right time in her life…

My sight had never been that good; I had delayed visual Image shows a girl riding on a large brown and white horse outside around a grassy field. The girl is wearing horseriding clothing and dark glassesdevelopment as a child and I never developed 3D vision, so I wasn’t good at sport at school. I first started to lose my sight about 3 years ago. Hearing this news at 17 years of age was devastating. I was about to step into adulthood, but my world and plans were crashing around me. My life changed in an instant.

I was training to be a florist and it was clear that this was not going to a viable career. Social media was full of the success of my friends as they passed their driving test - something that I was not going to achieve. I became depressed. I found it difficult to imagine a future. My mum coaxed me to watch my disabled sister ride and encouraged me to have a go myself.

I’m tall at six feet, which means the horses that I need to ride are also extremely tall. On my first lesson at the Riding for the Disabled Centre (RDA) I was introduced to my first horse and my emotions were extremely mixed. They told me that he was an ex-racehorse so I instantly imagined he would canter into the distance leaving me to fall from a great height. It couldn’t have been further from the truth, he was a gentle giant. The staff were brilliant, sensitive, supportive and highly qualified in my needs. They did not talk down to me or wrap me in cotton wool. They asked how they could support me and about my aspirations.

Initially my lessons involved getting to know the horse while it walked, and the horse was led on a lead rope. During the early lessons I got to feel what it was like to move on a horse and how-to manoeuvre them. That now seems so long ago! With time the lead rope came off and I am happy now to walk, trot, canter and even jump independently.

When I am horse riding, I feel physically free. I am so focused that my head is cleared of day to day worries and stresses. I look forward to riding, and the exhilaration and sense of achievement I feel after a successful ride can lift my mood for days!

I have gradually progressed and have grown in confidence enough to compete. Last year I successfully qualified for the RDA National Championships on its 50th anniversary in Countryside Challenge. I came second in my class. The competition had a great sense of inclusiveness - it didn’t feel like I was competing with anyone but was rather being encouraged to do my personal best.

When competing in Dressage it is useful that people are allowed to stand at markers within the arena. I can just make out the shape of an individual which tells me where I am in the Dressage course. These individuals are even allowed to say the name of the marker as I approach so on days when my sight is poor, I still know where I am in the arena.

British Blind sport were incredibly supportive. They have worked with the RDA to create an informative document for coaches. BBS identified that the Countryside Challenge obstacle course had obstacles that were predominantly on a ground floor level. While sitting on a horse many individuals cannot see these obstacles, including myself. These obstacles are now identified with flags or raised off the ground and, where possible, are brighter.

With my newfound confidence I now work part-time as a customer service assistant at Central England Coop and am a Brownie leader in training. I also volunteer at Treetops hospice charity shops. I have a lovely and supportive family, with a new addition of a 14-month-old Australian Labradoodle…who by no means could be called an assistance/guide dog!

My ambition in life is to compete at an international level. I would love to be an ambassador for visually impaired people who wish to ride.

RDA says it is “what you can do that counts”. There are over 500 groups in the country. I would love you to feel the independence that I feel while I ride. Why don’t you start your riding journey today?

To find your local riding centre, take a look at our Activity Finder here.

The horse Isobelle is riding in the images was borrowed from Wenlo RDA.